Just returned from his tour of Japan, American funk bassist, signer and songwriter William Earl “Bootsy” Collins takes the stage at the Keswick Theater in Glenside on June 15.
After years of struggling, Collins is now a proven commodity, explaining that his music appeals to a worldwide audience. He says, “Audiences in Japan were so into my music, it was amazing. They knew every word and often sang along with us.”
Today, Collins is embarking on a U.S. tour, and hopes American audiences will prove as devoted as those in the Orient.
“And I think they will,” he says. “I’ve always tried to think outside the box when it comes to making music. I’ve never looked at the normal way of doing things. I’ve never tried to have a formula for how to put music together like everybody else. I’ve tried to have an original way of doing things, another point of view as opposed to what the commercial market would think or even want. And after all these years, it seems to have worked.”
Rising to prominence with James Brown in the late 1960s, and with Parliament-Funkadelic in the ’70s, Collins’ driving bass guitar and humorous vocals established him as one of the leading names in funk. With his elder brother Phelps “Catfish” Collins, and Kash Waddy and Philippe Wynne, Collins formed a funk band called The Pacemakers in 1968.
The Pacemakers were hired as Brown’s backing band and became known as The J.B.’s. And although they only worked for Brown for 11 months, they played on some of Brown’s most intense funk recordings, including “Super Bad,” “Soul Power” and “Talkin’ Loud and Sayin’ Nothin,” among others. And the sound of funk would never be the same.
“Coming up, ‘funk’ was a bad word, and we simply had to learn to deal with that,” Collins explains. “We didn’t have a lot of money, so we dressed any way mother could afford to dress us. We got used to being laughed at early in life. Even with our music, we got used to that, too. We learned to do what we thought we needed to do. We got over criticism and laughter early in life. I think that’s a major setback for a lot of artists today. They can never get past that.”
Today, Collins says in making music he likes to think beyond what’s in it for him.
“My music is not so much about me as it is about giving people more of what they need in music and entertainment. And love. I come to give people hope as opposed just to seeing what I can get out of the deal. I know I’m in this to give back to people, so now I’m on a mission.”
And it’s a mission borne out of his own beginnings.
“I want my shows to be not only about that Bootsy but about those who influenced my life. In making music, I want to honor the people I grew up on. That’s what my newest CD, ‘Funk Capitol of the World’ is all about,” he says.
Collins also learned to conquer his own demons.
“Once I got delivered from the drug thing, my whole life took on meaning. I had to go through the desert to find that out. Now, I don’t like to tell people what to do, Id rather show them I’m still that brother who had all that rap on the corner. I just had to learn to put in the time and stay focused on what I needed to do.”
Additionally, Collins wants the younger generation who would like to follow in his footsteps to learn from his example, even learning how to take rejection.
He says, “I think that might be the most important thing to learn in life because we got so rejected coming up it began to be a joke to us. We said ‘funk it’ and that became a concept.”
But because they wouldn’t — or couldn’t — fit into the accepted norm — Collins says many radio stations wouldn’t talk about them or play their music.
“But we were just regular people trying to do what we knew how to do. We never wanted to be anything else. And you know what? I’m still that long-haired sucker from down the street.”
For times and ticket information, call (215) 572-7650.